Good content isn’t enough

Who’s in control of your website – an editor or a marketer? If you’ve left it in the hands of the former, then now is the time to think again. Mark Edwards says that marketing savvy is essential when it comes to bringing relevant traffic to your site in the web 2.0 world.

By Mark Edwards

You’ve got a beautiful site. It’s full of useful content and great features that take advantage of all this ‘web 2.0’ stuff that everyone keeps going on about it. You’ve built community tools and forums, and your designer is a digital Michelangelo. But none of this means a thing if you don’t get traffic – and relevant traffic at that.

In this article, I’m going to take a look at how to publish content online to ensure it stands a great chance of bringing you visitors, not just from search engines but from the frontiers of the new web: blogs, video, audio podcasts and news / PR.

Some of these tips were picked up at the Search Engine Strategies (SES) event in London this February. The rest are from my own experience of managing and building a stable of sites that get very high volumes of relevant traffic with almost zero brand awareness.

It’s different for websites

The rules of publishing online are different to publishing in magazines or newspapers – and some of the things you need to do to get noticed on the web go against the instincts of journalists and editors. Because of this, unless you have an incredibly strong brand that is going to bring you visitors regardless – the Sun is one of the most visited sites in the UK but the optimisation is awful – you should ensure your site is run by marketers not editors. Or at least make sure your editorial people buy into the importance of getting visitors, and the methods of getting them.

For example, the titles of news stories and articles in magazines might be poetic, or punning or clever. But that won’t work online, where titles need to contain targeted keyphrases. And that’s just the start.

The phrase is key

Keyphrases should be the base from which you start, whether your site mainly consists of articles, blog posts, news stories or video clips. Targeting single words is a mug’s game - you’re much more likely to be successful if you concentrate on two- or three-word phrases. First, let’s take a look at articles.

If you have a lot of content, like we do on www.teachingexpertise.com, you will pick up a reasonable amount of traffic without too much effort – well, as long as you have the right site architecture, a site that is technically friendly to search engines, and lots of links, but that’s a whole other article – because of the long tail effect. Teaching Expertise has thousands of specialist keyphrases that each get searched for a few times a day, and because not many other sites have those phrases on their pages (and we have better architecture than most rival sites) we naturally pick up lots of traffic from a very broad range of keyphrases.

But relying on breadth isn’t enough. If the articles are written with keyphrases in mind, you will get a lot more than ‘reasonable’ amounts of traffic. Going further, if you have a lot of content to choose from, you should prioritise content that fits your keyphrases.

But how do you choose these phrases? In their excellent book Search Engine Marketing Inc, Mike Moran and Bill Hunt write that you need to use the Goldilocks approach: you should target phrases that are not too cold (rarely searched for) and not too hot (too much competition); they need to be ‘just right’. Decent volume, but phrases that you have a realistic chance of getting a high ranking for. And don’t bother targeting phrases that don’t truly reflect your content. If you run a site about veterinary care, you want to target phrases like ‘dogs’ health’ and ‘cat sick’ rather than ‘pet dog’ or ‘cat’.

Wordtracker.com is an excellent place for finding keyphrases, as it will tell you how many times phrases are searched for every day and the level of competition.

Depending on the size of your site and the breadth of content, you should aim to have a list of between 20 and 50 keyphrases that you want to bring you traffic. You’re going to use these when you write articles, news stories, blogs, make videos and record podcasts. So you need to make sure that your writers and editors know what they are.

As mentioned above, you need to use keyphrases in your title. You should also should put them in your strapline. And your opening paragraph. And preferably your second paragraph… Don’t ‘stuff’ them – but make sure they’re prominent.

If this article was written for the web rather than a print publication, I might have called it ‘Search engine optimisation techniques: SEO and Web 2.0’. And I would have mentioned search and web 2.0 again in the first line. I would have made sure it was easy for both a search engine robot and a person – scanning content online much quicker than they would do leafing through a magazine – to tell what it was about.

The blogosphere of influence

Blog posts follow the same rules as articles. Your bloggers should ensure that your targeted phrases are there in the title and the body of the post.

At Search Engine Strategies, Amanda Watlington of Searching For Profit, shared a useful practical tip:

"Put all your targeted phrases in a spreadsheet. Write your post, then look at it again and rewrite it ensuring you include at least one key phrase. Then mark the date you used it in your spreadsheet so that you don’t target the same phrase again too soon."

People find blogs in different ways than searching on Google. First, there are links from other blogs – link traffic is proportionately greater in the blogosphere than in the wider web. A link from a popular, influential blog can pay huge dividends. One of the best ways to get people to notice you is to link out generously and often. This, again, requires research. Find the best blogs in your area (remember: relevancy), read them regularly and link to them in your posts. Also, leave comments on their blogs, not blatantly asking for links back but leaving your URL. You need to join in the conversation and get noticed. With luck, and if your blog is high quality, influential bloggers will start linking back to you.

Secondly, there’s Technorati, a site which attempts to make sense of the sprawling blogosphere – in other words, a search engine for blogs. Make sure you claim your blog, and think about the tags you use on your posts, as this is one of the main ways people search for content on Technorati. In short, your tags should match your – you guessed it – keyphrases.

In the news

Press releases should be written in exactly the same way as articles and blog posts, using exactly the same rules. Your aim is to reach journalists and bloggers, and also to pick up direct traffic from Google and Yahoo! News. Journalists and bloggers – those who aren’t only interested in telling you what their dog had for lunch – are hungry for content, and the whole system is fed by online PR services like Business Wire and ClickPress.

Online PR can be used not only to tell people about something new on your site but to build up anticipation for a new product or service. At SES, Katy Howell of Immediate Future said that by using online PR you can create the demand for your product yourself by targeting newswires, blogs, forums, social bookmarking sites like Digg and niche sites. If you use PR effectively, you will see big spikes in traffic.

Video and podcasting

Both video and podcasting are new ways to reach a broader audience. Up to 200 million videos are viewed every day on YouTube alone. MySpace also hosts huge numbers of video views, as does Google Video and a host of lesser-known broadcasting sites.

Video is not only a good way to present content on your site but is also an effective means of spreading the word about your site or products. A funny, sexy or informative video clip – branded with your logo and URL – could get your message to thousands of new prospective customers who will want to investigate the source of this great clip.

Podcasting can work in the same way, whether it’s video or audio. Thousands of people search iTunes and the other podcast aggregators to find stuff to watch or listen to on their daily commute. If they enjoy your podcast show, they’ll want to come to your site to see what else you have to offer.

As with blogs, you can control the tags on podcasts and videos. You should tag your YouTube clips so your videos can be found by the right people; and when creating audio podcasts, you can edit the ID3 tags which contain information about the file. New search engines like Podzinger will search inside podcasts and YouTube videos to find content in the same way Google looks at text pages. These search engines will grow – or, at least, they will sell the technology to Google!

A final tip is to ensure that the videos and podcasts on your site can be found by the bigger search engines by putting them on optimised pages. So, if you have a video clip showing how to mend a broken pipe, make sure the page it’s on includes the keyphrase ‘mend broken pipe’. And put a transcript on your site too. Video is growing enormously, but the text version might bring you more traffic.